The NNA heartily welcomes the dramatic intervention of 100 specialists in nicotine science, policy and practice who have submitted a letter this week criticising the WHO for their objections to tobacco harm reduction.
They make a number of recommendations for the WHO which should be heeded. To ensure that tobacco harm reduction is adopted as a goal of the WHO worldwide rather than insisting on prohibition or stringent restrictions; to properly assess the potential of reduced risk products as a significant driver of smoking cessation where they are allowed to flourish; to recognise the damaging consequences of the WHO’s current prohibitionist approach towards harm reduction; to stop excluding valid stakeholders, including consumers, from debate on spurious grounds; to review the current precautionary approach and the unintended consequences it is creating; and to review the WHO’s current counterproductive approach to tobacco control.
In our view, this is well overdue and it is to the signatories’ credit that they are speaking up.
The WHO has been acting for far too long now as if reduced risk products have no effect on smoking prevalence when we know from data around the world that they are making a huge difference where traditional tobacco control methods of taxes, restrictions and bans have failed. The denial cannot continue if the WHO is to be seen as seriously invested in reducing the harms from combustible tobacco use.
It is telling that the expert signatories, drawn from every continent in which the WHO operates, have found the prohibitionist approach so exasperating that they have come together to make a stand.
The NNA was formed of consumers who have seen their lives dramatically improved due to reduced risk products but not only are we excluded from the debate but also actively pursued for having the temerity to diverge from the prevailing orthodoxy amongst global tobacco control that “quit or die” is the only option for smokers. We vehemently disagree with this, as we have always done, especially as the stunning results in countries which have allowed safer nicotine alternatives to compete with cigarettes prove that we are on the right side of history.
The voices in favour of harm reduction are growing, just as they did in the same debate about harm reduction towards drugs and HIV in previous decades. Relying on carefully selected research to justify policy that does not deliver results can only hold back real-life evidence of the efficacy of harm reduction for so long. Sooner or later, the WHO must face reality or face their own irrelevance in the modern world.
We are pleased to see many UK voices included in the 100 signatories. The UK is a global leader on tobacco harm reduction and the NNA hopes that not only does it stay that way, but that the government continues to put faith in reduced risk products as an example to the rest of the world on how to reduce the number of smokers, at little cost to the taxpayer but with maximum results.
This can be done by the UK standing up for our world-leading approach at the upcoming COP9 and ordering the formation of a Tobacco Harm Reduction Working Group to properly assess the science rather than present the shoddy evidence base that the WHO is currently providing, and which these 100 experts rightly object to.